Turkey’s view of the United States as a destabilising force in the Middle East is pushing Ankara away from its NATO ally and into the arms of Russia, wrote Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in Foreign Affairs Magazine.
Turkey’s view of the United States’ malign influence began with the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and has intensified throughout eight years of the Syrian conflict, during which Washington and Ankara’s policies have diverged considerable, Stein said.
Turkey’s planned purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 missile defence system is one example of how little faith Ankara places in Washington, the scholar said, despite U.S. policymakers’ and national security professionals’ belief that Turkish national security elite continues to view the United States as an indispensable ally.
Tensions between Washington and Ankara have escalated in recent months over the purchase of the Russian-made S-400s, which the United States says will jeopardise Turkey’s role in the F-35 fighter jet programme and could trigger sanctions.
“Erdogan has refused to submit to U.S. demands, making clear that the agreement with Russia will be honored. In so doing, he has made a political choice, signaling to all who will listen that Turkey is willing to forgo cordial relations with Washington in favor of functional relations with Moscow,’’ the Foreign Affairs article underlined.
The alliance between Washington and Ankara was originally forged out of shared concerns about Soviet expansionism after World War II, according to Stein, who maintains that the NATO allies are now struggling to define shared interests.
The United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a power vacuum that was filled, in part, by the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan, a development which has unnerved Turkish national security elites worried ‘’that Turkey could splinter along ethnic lines if its significant Kurdish minority is emboldened,’’ Stein said.
The outbreak of war in Syria has only made matters worse, with the U.S.-backed Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) leading the war on the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region. Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting in Turkey for over 30 years, which both the United States and Turkey regard as a terrorist organization.
Ankara has reevaluated its traditional deference to Washington on other national security issues ever since the two countries’ interests in Syria began to diverge.
Turkey’s interests in the Syrian civil war also differ from Moscow’s, Stein said, however dynamics in Syria explain how Turkey has been able to paper over its differences with Russia.
‘’Russia has emerged as Turkey’s most reliable military partner in Syria, enabling Ankara to resume limited combat operations in the border regions that keep pressure on the Kurds without threatening Assad’s rule,’’ according to the Foreign Affairs article.
Turkey has conducted two cross-border operations into Syria, Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and Olive Branch in January 2018.
Stein maintains that Russia has benefitted from the operations as they heighten U.S.-Turkish tensions, which in turn heightens global tensions.
Russia is Turkey’s best avenue through which to influence an eventual peace settlement, and eventually a newly written Syrian constitution, both of which would give Turkey an opportunity to frustrate Kurdish ambitions for self-rule in Syria’s northeast, the article said.